Total Pageviews

Thursday, 26 February 2009

SPA Comet Special Bulletin

                 The SOCIETY for POPULAR ASTRONOMY
         Special Electronic News Bulletin  2009 February 26
By Jonathan Shanklin
Comet 2007 N3 (Lulin) is now visible in the evening sky,and reaches
opposition (when it is due south at midnight) on Feb. 26.  If the
clouds part,it should be visible to the naked eye at around 5th
magnitude from a sufficiently dark site, and through a telescope will
show a rather unusual tail.  The comet has a retrograde orbit
(i.e. opposite in direction to the planets) that is inclined at 178
degrees, which means that it moves nearly in the plane of the
ecliptic.  The gas tail will barely be visible as it will be pointing
directly away from us; the dust tail, however, is a broad fan lying in
the plane of the comet's orbit, so both a tail and anti-tail should be
The geometry also means that the comet's brightness is enhanced around
the time of opposition owing to the smallness of the angle between the
Sun, comet and the Earth.  The brightening in such a situation is
known astronomically as the 'opposition effect', and reveals something
about the character of the surface of the body concerned.  It is
frequently conspicuous in everyday life when the Sun is shining and is
at a low altitude; in its terrestrial manifestations it is known as
the heiligenschein effect.  If the observer's shadow falls on a rough
surface, the surface appears to brighten progressively towards the
shadow of the observer's head.  That happens because the rugosities in
the surface shade one another where the light arrives at an angle, but
in the exact anti-solar direction one sees only the illuminated parts
of the surface.  The effect is particularly striking on a surface such
as a cornfield, where the stalks shade one another substantially when
the obliquity of the illumination is only a few degrees.
Images show the coma of the comet to have a green hue, which is due to
emission of light from certain molecular bands of cyanogen and the
Swan bands of diatomic carbon.  People with sensitive colour vision
may see the colour through a telescope, but others will see only a
white glow.  Colour vision fails below a certain minimum surface
brightness, so to have the best chance of seeing the green colouration
it is necessary to maximize the apparent surface brightness of the
coma by using the lowest magnifying power appropriate to the
telescope being used.  That means a power that makes the exit pupil
from the eyepiece as large as will enter the eye -- about 6 or 7
millimetres, implying a magnifying power of about four times the
aperture of the telescope in inches.
Now is the best time to observe the comet, as the waxing Moon will
start to interfere with observations in early March.  The comet is
currently in Leo; it will fade quickly after opposition, and by the
time the Moon is out of the way in mid-March it can be expected to
have faded by two magnitudes.  To compensate however, it will by then
be high in the sky in Gemini, and so may be easier to see, even in
light-polluted areas.  This relatively bright comet gives beginners a
chance to practise their techniques.  Visual observers can attempt
magnitude estimates.  Use a technique similar to observing variable
stars, but de-focus the stars to make them appear nearly the same
diameter as the comet.  Better still, try remember the brightness of
the in-focus comet, and compare it with the out-of-focus stars.  You
can sketch the comet using techniques similar to those for drawing
deep-sky objects.  Imagers will need only short exposures to record
the comet, but you can then stack them to try to bring out more
detail.  For the latest information about this and other comets, and
some guidance on making observations, see the Section web page at
Bulletin compiled by Clive Down
(c) 2009 the Society for Popular Astronomy

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Dooh...Cloudy Skies Predicted for the Week Ahead...

Cloudy Skies Predicted-still can't have my cake and eat it-LOLOL...

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Taurus Launch Failure

This is a very interesting press conference about the Taurus Launch failure...

Taurus Rocket Launch Lost

The Mission

Rocket: Taurus XL
Payload: OCO
Date: Feb. 24, 2009
Time: 1:51 a.m. PST (4:51 a.m. EST)
Site: SLC-576E, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California


1440 GMT (9:40 a.m. EST; 6:40 a.m. PST)

NASA's $273 million Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite crashed into
the ocean near Antarctica shortly after launch today from Vandenberg
Air Force Base, Calif., atop an Orbital Sciences Corp. Taurus XL
booster. Telemetry indicated a protective nose cone fairing failed to
separate early in the climb to space, weighing the rocket down and
preventing the spacecraft from reaching orbit.

Read our updated story.

1343 GMT (8:43 a.m. EST; 5:43 a.m. PST)

John Brunschwyler, Taurus program manager from Orbital Sciences,
explains what was supposed to happen during the nose cone separation
and what actually occurred this morning:

"The fairing separates by a sequence of electrical pulses that drive
ordnance. The clamshell fairing is a two-piece device and it's
separated first with four pulses from an electronics box. These are
two primary pulses and two redundant pulses, which separate along the
fairing rails, which is the vertical part, if you will, of the
fairing. About 80 milliseconds later, the base joint is severed in a
similar fashion, that is with four pulses - two primary and two

"We have confirmation that the correct sequence was sent by the
software. We had good power going into this event, and we also had
healthy indications of our electronics box that sent the signal. Once
that time had passed, which was about three minutes into the flight,
we observed various pieces of telemetry that, of course, we then tried
to correlate. Because at first, being humans, we don't necessarily
believe one piece of data and we need to correlate the various pieces
to kind of come to a conclusion. And indeed we did come to a
conclusion later in the flight."

The pieces of the telemetry puzzle that showed the fairing had failed
to separate included the breakwire signals not indicating a jettison,
the fairing temperature sensors continuing to function later during
ascent and engineers not seeing the jump in acceleration that was
expected after fairing would have been shed.

"As a direct result of carrying that extra weight, we could not make
orbit," Brunschwyler said.

1335 GMT (8:35 a.m. EST; 5:35 a.m. PST)

"Let me say that our whole team, at a very personal level, are
disappointed in the events of this morning. It's very hard and like I
said, we are, at a very personal level, upset with the results," said
John Brunschwyler, Taurus program manager from Orbital Sciences.

1330 GMT (8:30 a.m. EST; 5:30 a.m. PST)

A statement from Taurus operator Orbital Sciences:

"Orbital will immediately convene an internal failure investigation
board that will include representatives from the company and NASA to
determine the cause of today¹s launch failure. Orbital believes that
it is likely that it gathered sufficient data during the flight that
will enable the company to identify the cause of the failure."

1315 GMT (8:15 a.m. EST; 5:15 a.m. PST)

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory has failed to reach orbit around Earth
because the nose cone of the Taurus rocket failed to separate.

The weight of the shroud meant the rocket couldn't reach orbital speed
and fell back into the ocean, landing near Antarctica, according to
John Brunschwyler, Taurus program manager from Orbital Sciences.

It is not known what prevented the fairing from jettisoning about
three minutes into the flight.

"We had indications that the sequence was sent, but shortly after that
we started getting indications that the fairing did not separate,"
NASA launch director Chuck Dovale said.

Separation of the shroud had been announced in real-time by the launch
team. Obviously, that was in error.

1258 GMT (7:58 a.m. EST; 4:58 a.m. PST)

A gallery of launch photos from this morning's liftoff of the Taurus
rocket is posted here.

1210 GMT (7:10 a.m. EST; 4:10 a.m. PST)

This morning's post-failure press conference has been rescheduled for
5 a.m. PST (8 a.m. EST; 1300 GMT).

1105 GMT (6:05 a.m. EST; 3:05 a.m. PST)

The Taurus rocket's 63-inch diameter payload fairing is built by the
Vermont Composites division for Orbital Sciences. The fairing's two
halves are made of graphite-epoxy composite materials with an aluminum
honeycomb core. This particular shroud has performed well in its five
previous Taurus missions before today's mishap.

According to the Taurus Users Guide, the two halves of the fairing are
structurally joined along their longitudinal interface using a
frangible joint system. An additional circumferential frangible joint
at the base of the fairing attaches the fairing to the upper stage

"At separation, a gas pressurization system is activated to pressurize
the fairing deployment thrusters. The fairing halves then rotate about
external hinges that control the fairing deployment to ensure that
payload and launch vehicle clearances are maintained. All elements of
the deployment system have been demonstrated through test to comply
with stringent contamination requirements."

A pre-launch photo showing the Orbiting Carbon Observatory spacecraft
and the nose cone can be seen here.

1050 GMT (5:50 a.m. EST; 2:50 a.m. PST)

NASA's $273 million Orbiting Carbon Observatory mission failed today
during launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., when the
protective nose cone fairing failed to separate properly in the climb
to space, agency officials said.

Read our full story here.

1036 GMT (5:36 a.m. EST; 2:36 a.m. PST)

"Right now, we do know that we have not had a successful launch
tonight and will not be able to have a successful OCO mission," NASA
launch commentator George Diller says.

1035 GMT (5:35 a.m. EST; 2:35 a.m. PST)

From NASA launch commentator George Diller:

"The OCO spacecraft did not achieve orbit successfully in a way that
we could have a mission. They're still looking at the telemetry data
very carefully.

"It appears we were getting indications the fairing was having
problems separating. It either did not separate or did not separate in
the way that it should. At any rate, we're still trying to evaluate
exactly what the status of the spacecraft is at this point, and
confirm the location and the orbit and exact state that the spacecraft
is in. However, the data surrounding fairing separation does not
appear to be what we expected to see. So that's what we believe has
probably happened."

1020 GMT (5:20 a.m. EST; 2:20 a.m. PST)

"The nature of the failure is the fairing did not separate from around
the spacecraft," NASA spokesman George Diller said, adding that a
press conference would be held approximately two hours from now.

1016 GMT (5:16 a.m. EST; 2:16 a.m. PST)

The word from NASA launch commentator George Diller:

"This is Taurus launch control. It appears that we have had a launch
contingency. We don't have the exact nature of the loss of mission,
but NASA launch director Chuck Dovale has directed that the launch
contingency plan be implemented. We will try to bring you any
additional information as soon as we have it."

1015 GMT (5:15 a.m. EST; 2:15 a.m. PST)

Here was announcement from NASA launch director Chuck Dovale when the
failure was declared:

"It appears we've had a contingency with the OCO mission. Please enact
the mission mishap preparedness and contingency plan. Begin with
notification, data impoundment and mishap response tasks. Do not leave
your stations until released by the NLM or the ALM. Do not attempt to
call out and release information to anyone or speculate on the cause
of the contingency. I'll come back on this net and instruct you

1013 GMT (5:13 a.m. EST; 2:13 a.m. PST)

NASA says the rocket's nose cone did not jettison as planned, causing
today's launch to end in failure.

Separation of the shroud had been announced by the launch team.
However, it appears that was in error.

1009 GMT (5:09 a.m. EST; 2:09 a.m. PST)

FAILURE. Today's launch has failed. NASA launch manager Chuck Dovale
has ordered mishap procedures to begin. It is not known at this time
what has occurred.

1008 GMT (5:08 a.m. EST; 2:08 a.m. PST)

T+plus 12 minutes, 30 seconds. The Taurus rocket's upper stage
finished its firing, Orbital says.

1007 GMT (5:07 a.m. EST; 2:07 a.m. PST)

T+plus 11 minutes, 45 seconds. The rocket's attitude remains normal.

1006 GMT (5:06 a.m. EST; 2:06 a.m. PST)

T+plus 11 minutes, 15 seconds. Fourth stage ignition is confirmed.

1004 GMT (5:04 a.m. EST; 2:04 a.m. PST)

T+plus 9 minutes. The rocket is positioning itself to the fourth stage
ignition orientation as planned.

1003 GMT (5:03 a.m. EST; 2:03 a.m. PST)

T+plus 7 minutes, 30 seconds. All systems still reported in good shape
as the rocket continues to coast.

1002 GMT (5:02 a.m. EST; 2:02 a.m. PST)

T+plus 6 minutes, 45 seconds. Taurus is 300 miles above the Pacific now.

1001 GMT (5:01 a.m. EST; 2:01 a.m. PST)

T+plus 6 minutes. Orbital reports that all systems are operating
normally. Ignition of the fourth stage is expected at about T+plus 11
minutes, 9 seconds.

1000 GMT (5:00 a.m. EST; 2:00 a.m. PST)

T+plus 4 minutes, 45 seconds. The downrange P-3 tracking aircraft
positioned over the Pacific has acquired the rocket's signal for data
relay back to Vandenberg.

1000 GMT (5:00 a.m. EST; 2:00 a.m. PST)

T+plus 4 minutes, 30 seconds. The third stage has finished firing. The
Taurus rocket now enters a brief ballistic coast to reach the high
point of its current trajectory before the fourth stage ignites to
circularize the orbit.

0959 GMT (4:59 a.m. EST; 1:59 a.m. PST)

T+plus 4 minutes, 15 seconds. The vehicle's attitude is stable during
the third stage burn. Altitude now 175 miles, speed 14,000 mph.

0959 GMT (4:59 a.m. EST; 1:59 a.m. PST)

T+plus 3 minutes, 40 seconds. Taurus is 130 miles up and traveling at
11,000 mph.

0958 GMT (4:58 a.m. EST; 1:58 a.m. PST)

T+plus 3 minutes, 14 seconds. With the Taurus' nose cone enclosing the
Orbiting Carbon Observatory during atmospheric ascent no longer
needed, the fairing has been jettisoned.

0958 GMT (4:58 a.m. EST; 1:58 a.m. PST)

T+plus 3 minutes. Burnout and separation of the rocket's second stage
just occurred. And now the Orion 50XL third stage has been lit.

0957 GMT (4:57 a.m. EST; 1:57 a.m. PST)

T+plus 2 minutes. The rocket is stable as the Orion 50SXLG second
stage continues to burn.

0957 GMT (4:57 a.m. EST; 1:57 a.m. PST)

T+plus 1 minute, 40 seconds. Taurus is traveling at 5,000 mph at an
altitude of 50 miles.

0957 GMT (4:57 a.m. EST; 1:57 a.m. PST)

T+plus 1 minute, 30 seconds. The initial staging event of the launch
has occurred. The rocket's second stage ignited and the spent first
stage was jettisoned to fall into the Pacific Ocean.

0956 GMT (4:56 a.m. EST; 1:56 a.m. PST)

T+plus 45 seconds. Passing through the region of maximum aerodynamic
pressure in the dense lower altitudes of the atmosphere.

0956 GMT (4:56 a.m. EST; 1:56 a.m. PST)

T+plus 30 seconds. Taurus has passed Mach 1, now traveling faster than
the speed of sound as it heads south toward a polar orbit on the power
of the Castor 120 first stage motor.

0955:30 GMT (4:55:30 a.m. EST; 1:55:30 a.m. PST)

LIFTOFF! Liftoff of the Orbital Sciences Taurus XL rocket and the
Orbiting Carbon Observatory to study man's impact on the home planet.

0955:00 GMT (4:55:00 a.m. EST; 1:55:00 a.m. PST)

T-minus 30 seconds. All remains "go" for launch.

0954:30 GMT (4:54:30 a.m. EST; 1:54:30 a.m. PST)

T-minus 1 minute and counting to launch of NASA's first environmental
satellite dedicated to mapping atmospheric carbon dioxide.

0954:00 GMT (4:54:00 a.m. EST; 1:54:00 a.m. PST)

T-minus 90 seconds. Auto sequence start.

0953:30 GMT (4:53:30 a.m. EST; 1:53:30 a.m. PST)

T-minus 2 minutes and counting. Final arming of the rocket has been
completed after some initial difficulty.

0952:30 GMT (4:52:30 a.m. EST; 1:52:30 a.m. PST)

T-minus 3 minutes and counting. Launch team is working a problem
arming the rocket.

0950:30 GMT (4:50:30 a.m. EST; 1:50:30 a.m. PST)

T-minus 5 minutes and counting. Orbital Sciences' launch conductor
Adam Lewis has performed his "final clear to launch" readiness poll.
Everyone voiced a "go" to launch at 1:55 a.m. local time.

0950:00 GMT (4:50:00 a.m. EST; 1:50:00 a.m. PST)

T-minus 5 minutes, 30 seconds. The rocket's rate gyro guidance system
has been started.

0949:30 GMT (4:49:30 a.m. EST; 1:49:30 a.m. PST)

T-minus 6 minutes and counting. The S-band data transmitters have been
turned on. And engineers confirm telemetry streaming from the rocket's
systems is being received.

0947:30 GMT (4:47:30 a.m. EST; 1:47:30 a.m. PST)

T-minus 8 minutes and counting. The Taurus rocket's avionics are going
to internal power for launch.

0945:30 GMT (4:45:30 a.m. EST; 1:45:30 a.m. PST)

T-minus 10 minutes and counting. OCO is running normally on internal power.

0944:30 GMT (4:44:30 a.m. EST; 1:44:30 a.m. PST)

T-minus 11 minutes and counting. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory
spacecraft is switching to internal battery power for its ride into

0943:30 GMT (4:43:30 a.m. EST; 1:43:30 a.m. PST)

T-minus 12 minutes and counting. Clocks have resumed ticking after the
planned 5-minute hold. Liftoff remains scheduled for 1:55:30 a.m.
local time (4:55:30 a.m. EST; 0955:30 GMT).

0943 GMT (4:43 a.m. EST; 1:43 a.m. PST)

The launch team was just polled to give approval for switching Taurus'
avionics to internal power.

0940 GMT (4:40 a.m. EST; 1:40 a.m. PST)

The brief delay in launch was needed to work through a range issue, NASA says.

0938 GMT (4:38 a.m. EST; 1:38 a.m. PST)

The countdown will remain in this hold an additional four minutes to
sync up with the new launch time.

0937 GMT (4:37 a.m. EST; 1:37 a.m. PST)

NEW LAUNCH TIME. The launch has been pushed back a few minutes to
1:55:30 a.m. local (4:55:30 a.m. EST; 0955:30 GMT).

0934 GMT (4:34 a.m. EST; 1:34 a.m. PST)

T-minus 12 minutes and holding. The countdown has entered the second
of two planned built-in holds. This pause will last 5 minutes.

Everything is progressing for an on-time launch of the Taurus XL
rocket from the Space Launch Complex 576E pad at Vandenberg Air Force
Base in California.

0932 GMT (4:32 a.m. EST; 1:32 a.m. PST)

NASA launch director Chuck Dovale has conducted a final poll of the
agency team. All elements remain ready for launch.

0928 GMT (4:28 a.m. EST; 1:28 a.m. PST)

Checks of the safety system have been conducted successfully.

0925 GMT (4:25 a.m. EST; 1:25 a.m. PST)

The Flight Termination System is switching to internal power for
pre-launch checks.

0922 GMT (4:22 a.m. EST; 1:22 a.m. PST)

The launch team has been given a "go" to power on the rocket's Flight
Termination System. This is the safety system that would be used in
the unlikely event the rocket experiences a malfunction during launch.

0916 GMT (4:16 a.m. EST; 1:16 a.m. PST)

Upper level winds have been confirmed acceptable for the Taurus
rocket's ascent today.

0911 GMT (4:11 a.m. EST; 1:11 a.m. PST)

Now 40 minutes from liftoff.

Tonight's mission is the first time a NASA satellite has been the
primary payload aboard a Taurus rocket. The Orbital Sciences vehicle
underwent the space agency's rigorous review to be qualified for
launching a spacecraft such as the Orbiting Carbon Observatory.

"We had to go through a certification process with NASA," said John
Brunschwyler, Orbital's Taurus program manager. "This process is where
NASA investigates and assesses the design of the Taurus vehicle, our
components, the processes to ensure it's the lowest risk possible for
these valuable payloads."

A special sticker noting the Taurus' certification is affixed to the
OCO rocket.

Taurus joins other certified rockets such as Orbital's air-launched
Pegasus and United Launch Alliance's Delta 2 and Atlas 5 boosters.

"We're proud to say that Taurus has joined the elite family of
vehicles certified by NASA," said Chuck Dovale, NASA's senior launch

Another Taurus is scheduled to launch NASA's Glory satellite later
this year from Vandenberg to study aerosols in the atmosphere.

0908 GMT (4:08 a.m. EST; 1:08 a.m. PST)

The launch weather officer provided another briefing to management.
There's still a 100 percent chance of acceptable conditions today.

The revised forecast for launch time predicts a few stratus clouds
between 100 and 500 feet associated with patchy fog, scattered clouds
from 2,500 to 5,000 feet, visibility of 5 miles, northeasterly winds
of 5-10 knots and a temperature of 50 degrees F.

0903 GMT (4:03 a.m. EST; 1:03 a.m. PST)

The SIGI flight computer is reported "nav ready."

0857 GMT (3:57 a.m. EST; 12:57 a.m. PST)

Alignment of the Taurus rocket's guidance computer is beginning.

0856 GMT (3:56 a.m. EST; 12:56 a.m. PST)

T-minus 50 minutes and counting. Clocks have resumed ticking after the
planned 15-minute hold. Liftoff remains scheduled for 1:51:30 a.m.
local time (4:51:30 a.m. EST; 0951:30 GMT).

0854 GMT (3:54 a.m. EST; 12:54 a.m. PST)

Orbital Sciences' launch conductor Adam Lewis has performed his
readiness poll for picking up the countdown.

"Launch team is ready to proceed with Hot Count," Lewis said.

0851 GMT (3:51 a.m. EST; 12:51 a.m. PST)

NASA launch director Chuck Dovale has polled the agency team to
confirm there are no constraints with restarting the countdown
following the built-in hold.

"OCO and the team are ready for Hot Count," Dovale reported.

0842 GMT (3:42 a.m. EST; 12:42 a.m. PST)

The Taurus avionics just switched from ground-fed power to internal
power for a few moments so the launch team could verify voltages and
currents. No problems with the power system were reported.

0841 GMT (3:41 a.m. EST; 12:41 a.m. PST)

T-minus 50 minutes and holding. The countdown has entered the first of
two planned built-in holds. This pause will last 15 minutes.

These holds are designed to give the launch team a chance to deal with
any problems and catch up on work that could be running behind

0837 GMT (3:37 a.m. EST; 12:37 a.m. PST)

The S-band data and C-band tracking checks were completely satisfactorily.

0831 GMT (3:31 a.m. EST; 12:31 a.m. PST)

Nestled inside the Taurus rocket's nose cone is the Orbiting Carbon
Observatory, an experimental spacecraft as part of NASA's Earth System
Science Pathfinder Program. It is the agency's first environmental
satellite dedicated to mapping atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The 986-pound satellite was built by Orbital Sciences Corp. It stands
7 feet tall and 3 feet wide. A pair of power-generating solar wings
will be deployed in space to span 29 feet tip-to-tip.

0821 GMT (3:21 a.m. EST; 12:21 a.m. PST)

Now 90 minutes from launch. Interrogation checks of the rocket's
tracking beacon and telemetry data links are underway.

0809 GMT (3:09 a.m. EST; 12:09 a.m. PST)

The flight computer is booting.

0808 GMT (3:08 a.m. EST; 12:08 a.m. PST)

The rocket's avionics have been powered up and telemetry being
received confirms good voltage and current readings.

0753 GMT (2:53 a.m. EST; 11:53 p.m. PST)

Just inside two hours from liftoff. The ground team has completed its
final launch site configuration checklist. Powerup of the Taurus
rocket will be accomplished shortly.

0747 GMT (2:47 a.m. EST; 11:47 p.m. PST)

Space Launch Complex 576E has been cleared of all workers for the
remainder of the countdown.

0731 GMT (2:31 a.m. EST; 11:31 p.m. PST)

T-minus 2 hours and counting. Clocks are ticking toward liftoff of the
Taurus XL rocket. Tonight's countdown includes a pair of planned hold
points totaling 20 minutes in duration, leading toward the target
liftoff time of 1:51:30 a.m. PST.

0725 GMT (2:25 a.m. EST; 11:25 p.m. PST)

There's no weather worries going into tonight's launch attempt.

The latest launch time forecast calls for a few stratus clouds between
100 and 500 feet associated with patchy fog, scattered clouds from
2,500 to 5,000 feet, visibility of 4 miles, northeasterly winds of
5-10 knots and a temperature in the upper 40s F.

0715 GMT (2:15 a.m. EST; 11:15 p.m. PST)

In this point in the countdown, the teams are working through the
facility and range setup checklists.

0700 GMT (2:00 a.m. EST; 11:00 p.m. PST)

The early portion of tonight's countdown is progressing as planned and
launch of the Taurus rocket remains on schedule for 1:51:30 a.m. local
time (4:51:30 a.m. EST; 0951:30 GMT).

0600 GMT (1:00 a.m. EST; 10:00 p.m. PST)

Mission managers and the launch crew have reported for duty for the
overnight flight of the Taurus XL rocket carrying the Orbiting Carbon
Observatory from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Final launch preparations are underway at the SLC-576E pad as workers
finish configuring the complex for the 1:51 a.m. liftoff.

The simplistic launch site does not have a mobile service gantry. So
there's no tower rollback to deal with like other rocket launches.

And this is a solid-propellant vehicle. So no fueling operations are
conducted during the countdown.

0200 GMT (9:00 p.m. EST; 6:00 p.m. PST)

We have posted a gallery of photos taken Monday. The images show
workers putting the final touches on the Orbital Sciences Taurus XL
rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base in preparation to launch NASA's
Orbiting Carbon Observatory.


Weather forecasters are predicting a 100 chance that conditions will
allow an Orbital Sciences Taurus rocket to launch the Orbiting Carbon
Observatory from California early Tuesday morning.

"Tonight my team and I are going to continuously monitor the weather
to ensure a safe launch and flight of the Taurus vehicle and the OCO
payload. It's always especially rewarding for us as a team of
meteorologists to aid on a launch of an environmental satellite," said
Capt. Damon Vorhees, the launch weather officer from the 30th Weather
Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

At launch time, the forecast calls for scattered clouds at 2,500 feet,
some high cirrus clouds, light fog reducing visibility to 5 miles,
northwesterly winds of 8-12 knots and a temperature in the upper 40s

"That is favorable weather for the launch and the probability of
violating one of the launch rules tonight looks like it's going to be
about zero percent," Vorhees said.

The OCO satellite will operate at least two years surveying the planet
for natural and man-made carbon dioxide emissions.

"All of us are sincerely excited about not only the launch but of the
important science data return in the months and years to come," said
Ralph Basilio, OCO deputy project manager from the Jet Propulsion

The launch crew is resting today in preparation for the overnight countdown.

"The team is thrilled. They've done a tremendous amount of work to get
to this point," said Chuck Dovale, NASA's senior launch director.
"We're ready for launch. All of our reviews are complete."

Liftoff is targeted for exactly 1:51:30 a.m. local time (4:51:30 a.m.
EST; 0951:30 GMT).

The day's launch window extends just four minutes and 20 seconds.


NASA's first environmental satellite dedicated to mapping atmospheric
carbon dioxide has been cleared for launch early Tuesday aboard from
California aboard an Orbital Sciences Taurus XL rocket.

The final launch readiness review was held Sunday afternoon and
affirmed all systems were "go" for the Orbiting Carbon Observatory

The Combined Systems Test between the Taurus rocket and its payload
was successfully completed Friday and the access scaffolding around
the pad was taken down Saturday.

Launch countdown activities will get underway Monday evening.

Tuesday's middle-of-the-night liftoff is targeted for 1:51 a.m. local
time (4:51 a.m. EST).

Air Force meteorologists report there's an 80 percent chance of
acceptable weather for the launch.

The OCO spacecraft will fly 438 miles above the planet in polar orbit,
collecting about 8 million measurements every 16 days to create maps
showing global distribution of carbon dioxide.

"It's critical that we understand the processes controlling carbon
dioxide in our atmosphere today so we can predict how fast it will
build up in the future and how quickly we'll have to adapt to climate
change caused by carbon dioxide buildup," said David Crisp, the OCO
principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Scientists say carbon dioxide is the leading human-produced greenhouse
gas driving changes in Earth's climate.


Final assembly of the Taurus XL rocket was underway Wednesday at
Vandenberg Air Force Base, piecing together the multi-stage booster
and its environmental payload at a minimalist launch pad on the
central coast of California.

Liftoff is scheduled for 1:51 a.m. PST (4:51 a.m. EST; 0951 GMT) next
Tuesday to deliver NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory into polar

Known for its simplistic launch site devoid of any large gantry or
major infrastructure, the Taurus rocket is a four-stage, all
solid-fuel booster designed to carry small satellites into space.

Operated by Orbital Sciences, the Taurus is a ground-based rocket
derived from the company's air-launched Pegasus vehicle. In fact, the
Taurus and Pegasus use three common stages. But what makes Taurus
different is the addition of a bottom stage to power the initial climb
away from Earth.

Taurus debuted in 1994 and has six successful flights to its credit,
putting 10 satellites into orbit.

Next week's mission will carry OCO, NASA's first spacecraft dedicated
to mapping atmospheric carbon dioxide and the human impact to climate

Stacking of the Taurus rocket began January 29 when the first stage
was mounted atop the pad's pedestal, a 24-foot tall stand
affectionately dubbed the milk stool.

The first stage is a Castor 120 motor manufactured by Alliant
Techsystems, the maker of all four Taurus stages.

The upper three motors are the Orion 50SXLG second stage, the Orion
50XL third stage and the Orion 38 fourth stage. They were integrated
in Orbital's Building 1555 hangar at Vandenberg, then hauled to the
Taurus pad via a special trailer on February 3.

Once at the pad, the site of an abandoned missile silo and now known
as Space Launch Complex 576E, the three combined upper stages were
housed inside a large portable tent where the final assembly work
between the rocket and satellite could be performed in a safe
horizontal position.

OCO underwent testing in a processing facility on base, then got
enclosed within the two-piece shroud that serves as the rocket's
63-inch-diameter nose cone during launch. Technicians trucked the
encapsulated satellite to the pad a week ago, rotating it horizontal
at the tent's doorway to join the waiting rocket stages.

The payload was attached to the fourth stage on Monday.

The tent was moved out of the way early Wednesday morning, giving
large cranes brought into the pad full access to the combined stages
and OCO.

Two cranes working in tandem hoisted the upper stack off the
horizontal transporter and turned the slender space hardware into a
vertical position. Within minutes, the rocket was maneuvered atop the
first stage waiting on the pad.

Crews quickly went to work bolting the upper portion of the vehicle to
the first stage under brilliant blue skies. Later, technicians
standing in the basket of a cherry-picker released the lifting
fixtures that held the rocket during the move.

A gallery of photos showing the rocket's pre-launch processing
campaign can be seen here.

There is no mobile service structure or towering gantry at the Taurus
pad. Simple scaffolding temporarily erected around the first stage and
the cranes give workers the access they require during the rocket's
brief stay on the pad.

Now standing fully assembled, the Taurus is 93 feet tall and 81 tons in weight.

Final testing and readiness reviews are planned over the next few days
leading into Monday night's countdown.

Watch this page for live updates during the count and the ascent into orbit!

Copyright 2009, all rights reserved.

Comet Lulin

The comet Lulin (center-right) is seen through the trees from
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, Monday, Feb. 23, 2009. Lulin,
also known as the green comet, made its closest approach to the Earth

Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Monday, 23 February 2009

Rocket poised for overnight launch from California

     NEWSALERT: Monday, February 23, 2009 @ 1902 GMT
         The latest news from Spaceflight Now

SPACE PATCHES from the Apollo era available in our Store!

NASA's first environmental satellite dedicated to mapping atmospheric
carbon dioxide has been cleared for launch early Tuesday aboard from
California aboard an Orbital Sciences Taurus XL rocket. Follow the
countdown in our live Mission Status Center:

On Tuesday, Comet Lulin will make its first visit to the inner Solar
System, streaking past the Earth at a distance of 38 million miles, or 160
times further than the Moon.

A space telescope that will search for Earth-like planets in the galaxy
was mounted atop a Delta 2 rocket at its Cape Canaveral launch pad

The Great Cosmic Coincidence of Feb. 24, 2009

Comet Lulin...

Space Weather News for Feb. 23, 2009

COSMIC COINCIDENCE: What are the odds? On Tuesday, Feb. 24th, Saturn and Comet Lulin will converge in the constellation Leo only 2 degrees apart. At the same time, Comet Lulin will be making its closest approach to Earth--the comet at its best!-- while four of Saturn's moons transit the disk of the ringed planet in view of backyard telescopes. Oh, and the Moon will be New, providing dark skies for anyone who wishes to see the show.

The best time to look is around 1 a.m. Tuesday morning (your local time) when the planet-comet combo ascend high in the southern sky. To the unaided eye, Comet Lulin looks like a faint patch of gas floating next to golden Saturn. Point your backyard telescope at that patch and you will see a lovely green comet with a double tail.

Visit for full coverage including photos, sky maps, and a live webcast.

Geographic Notes: Comet Lulin is visible from all parts of the globe--all longitudes and both hemispheres. Directions are reversed in the southern hemisphere; there the comet is located in the northern sky around 1 am.  Saturn is globally visible, too, but the special quadruple transit of Saturn's moons starting around 3 a.m. PST on Feb. 24th is visible only to observers around the Pacific Rim.  Details may be found here:

A very good Saturday Night Skywatch..

It was very nice to meet Ron Larter for the first time-I wish him well with his pursuit of Astronomical photography etc.

It was a very good night on Saturday on Pakefield clifftop carpark next to the Jolly Sailors public house apart from the variable cloud which blocked a great many of the Messier objects out we could have seen-my Laser pointers were invaluable to point out the objects in the sky so people could get their equipment focused on them-glad I have them so people can see the objects and enjoy them as I do.

Thanks to Len-he was the first one to pick out Comet Lulin low in the South East just after it had risen before 21.00 U.T and I thought it looked a bit odd until I looked at it through my 20X100 Binoculars and could see it was close to a double star and the Coma just in front of the two stars, the Coma was not as condensed as other Comets I have seen though, all in all it was a good night and the objects we see were:

M42-M43 The Orion Nebula (lovely almost Bluish Turquoise Nebulosity) M45 The Pleiades (Blue hot stars with very slight Nebulosity) M32 Great Galaxy in Andromeda (slightly clouded) M41 in Canis Major (going in and out of variable cloud) M44 Praesepe in Cancer, The Planet Saturn (with almost closed rings) Comet Lulin in Virgo spotted by Len first and a number of various stars in several constellations worth looking at, I don't think the clear sky patches were clear enough to see the Coma, Virgo cluster of Galaxies that can be seen with a 5 inch telescope upwards, I may just be able to pick one or two of them out with my 20X100's on a clear crisp coal black night.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Comet Lulin...

Right now it is 14.37 U.T and the sky is full off Grey cloud to the West-a little bit of Sun in the South and Grey cloud right the way round the East to the North-I fear its going to be a right off tonight and I was so looking forward to seeing this Comet for the first time-maybe March may be a little clearer but that also can be a funny month and it has been known to snow then-I think I will just have to stay as optimistic as I can about this Comet as this weekend as well as into next week will be the best viewing times for this-lets hope we all get a clear window sometime to see this as it will be well placed in the evening skies in the South East and South.

Tonight the Comet will be visible from 20.50 U.T onwards and according to the Ephemeris it is +/-magnitude +4.3? (around that Magnitude) Its closest approach to the Earth is 23/24 February at 0.41 AU and being now past Perihelion at 1.38 AU from the Sun-it Transits at 02.14 tomorrow Morning and will soon Transit before midnight.


Catch Comet Lulin at Its Best!

by Alan MacRobert and Greg Bryant

Comet Lulin was showing mere ghosts of a tail and an antitail on January 19, 2009, when Michael Jaeger took this image from Austria. He used an 8-inch f/2.8 astrographic camera for exposures through LRGB filters totaling 10 minutes.
Michael Jaeger

Comet C/2007 N3 (Lulin), discovered in July 2007, is the highlight comet of this season. It's predicted to reach about 5th magnitude in late February, and as of mid-February it's easily visible in binoculars — if you have good viewing conditions. Some observers have even reported detecting it with the unaided eye in a dark, moonless sky. In telescopes and low-light images, it's showing both a dim tail and an antitail.

To find when the Moon rises and sets at your site, make sure that your location and current time zone are in our online almanac; uncheck the Daylight Saving Time box if necessary.

Below is a calendar (often updated) of the comet's doings past, present, and future (and here's an ephemeris). But the comet's brightness behavior may be a bit unpredictable, because it's on a nearly parabolic orbit that suggests this is its first visit to the inner solar system. You never know what a pristine comet might do.

The comet spent January rapidly getting higher and brighter in the morning sky as it moved across Libra. The beginning of January found it glowing at 7th magnitude, not quite as bright as predicted. It was at perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) on January 10th, at a solar distance of 1.2 a.u. (181 million km). But after perihelion Lulin continued brightening as its diminishing distance from Earth more than compensated for its moving away from the Sun.

Jan. 17: Mariano Ribas in Argentina writes: "Despite Moon interference, the comet right now is an easy target for amateur telescopes of 10 to 20 centimeters (4 to 8 inches) and big binoculars here in Buenos Aires, a city with strong light pollution (limiting magnitude about 4). Today, 1½ hours before sunrise, I saw the comet again and estimated its visual magnitude about 7.0, with a coma 3&prime in diameter and moderately condensed (DC: 5/6). But no signs of tail."

Jan. 21: "Quite visible in 10x50 binocs in spite of the crescent Moon being close," reports Amar Sharma in Bangalore, India. "20x80 binocs gave a better view as a fuzzy globular, and the 8-inch scope did reveal a condensed fuzzy coma ~4–5 arcminutes in diameter."

Jan. 22: Still only about mag 6.8 or 7.0 according to reports, about 1 magnitude below predictions.

Jan. 25: "I picked it up instantly with 10x30 binoculars this morning," says S&T's Tony Flanders, who was under a dark country sky. "It seemed comparable in overall brightness to M53 [a 7.7-magnitude globular cluster in Coma], but bigger and with lower surface brightness. In a 12.5-inch Dob at 227×, it was a very bright circular blob getting continuously brighter toward the center. I couldn't make out a stellar nucleus. I thought I saw an antitail, but it might well have been my imagination."

Jan. 30: On the other hand, in the light-polluted suburb of Arlington, MA, this morning, Flanders could not detect the comet with 10×30 binoculars. A 70mm refractor showed it dimly. Light pollution makes a big difference.

Jan. 31: "Comet Lulin is a very easy target for small telescopes and binoculars in Buenos Aires´s sky, despite our light pollution (naked-eye limiting magnitude 4.5)", writes Mariano Ribas. "With the Sun still 18° below the horizon, here in Buenos Aires the comet appears 50° over the east horizon." He estimated its visual magnitude at 6.5, "a half magnitude better than 10 days ago," using a 90mm refractor at 25×. "The coma looks asymmetrical, oval in shape, and moderately condensed (DC: 5). Still, I can´t see any of the tail (because our light pollution)."

Take a look at Jeremy Perez's visual sketch of the comet as seen in an 8-inch scope at 120×.

Comet Lulin on February 2nd, glowing at magnitude 6.5 with tail and antitail. Click image for larger view.
Paolo Candy

FEBRUARY: Peak Brightness, Peak Speed

As Comet Lulin nears Earth, it brightens and its speed across the sky increases.

February 4: "Today we were lucky enough to capture an intriguing phenomenon," write Ernesto Guido, Giovanni Sostero and Paul Camilleri. "In our images of comet Lulin, clearly visible is a nice disconnection event (DE) in the plasma tail. The DE indicates that the comet recently passed through a disturbance in the magnetic field carried by the solar wind; that destroyed the original plasma tail, creating a new one. The separation of the two ion tails is visible in our image as a kind of elongated and diffuse knot along the plasma tail." See the images on their blogsite.

February 6: This morning the comet passed close by the wide binocular double star Alpha Librae; see gorgeous photos.

February 7: Its reported magnitude is now 6.1.

Even through the moonlight on February 12th, Jim Janusz recorded both the gas tail (bottom) and dust antitail (top). He took this image from Arizona Sky Village using a 180-mm (7-inch) Astro-Physics EDF refractor with an Apogee U16-MA camera for 19 one-minute unguided exposures. He combined the exposures using the comet's nucleus as the reference point. Click image for larger view.
Jim Janusz
After moving about 1° per day at the start of February, by February 11th Lulin was creeping westward at 2° per day as it crossed into Virgo. On the night of February 15–16 it passed 3° north of Spica, while now traveling 3° per day.

The sky is dark and moonless again from about February 16th to the 28th. And the good observing times for Lulin are now more convenient: midnight or late evening rather than early morning.

February 17: Mariano Ribas writes from Buenos Aires, "I observed comet Lulin again, this time with Orion´s 90 mm refractor (25x). We still have the Moon causing some interference, but despite of its glare, the comet is a very bright object in my telescope. Using the "In-Out" method and two stars of mag. 5.7 and 5.3, I estimated Lulin´s magnitude at 5.6 . Its coma is clearly bigger (8–10 arcminutes) and more concentrated (DC:6) than just five days ago. I could not see any of its tail or antitail."

"If that brightening continues in the next days, comet Lulin will reach magnitude 5.0 or even better during its closest approach on February 24th. A good comet to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy!"

February 18: Alan MacRobert in the Boston suburbs: "It was easy and obvious to sweep up with 10×50 binoculars, looking out my bathroom window at 2 a.m. It even had the flying-saucer shape familiar from photos. Gray with barely a hint of green. The stubby antitail was fairly easy, the other tail not so much. This was with the binoculars held very steady with their homemade image stabilization."

"The Sword Comet — I have named it so!" writes Paolo Candy of the Cimini Astronomical Observatory & Planetarium in Italy. As of 0:30 UT February 20th, when Candy took this picture, the dust antitail (left) had grown in prominence to quite outdo the gas tail (right), which points away from the Sun. The small spiral galaxy below the comet is NGC 4546.

Candy used a 10-inch f/3 Baker-Schmidt Zen astrograph, and an SBIG STL 6303E camera, for L, R, G, and B exposures 3, 1, 1, and 2 minutes long, respectively.

Paolo Candy

Here's a NASA press release (Feb. 20) on the Swift satellite's observations of the comet in X-rays and the ultraviolet.

On the night of February 23rd, in a moonless sky and near its peak brightness, Comet Lulin passes 2° south-southwest of Saturn.

Lulin's closest approach to Earth, 0.41 a.u. (61 million km), occurs on February 24th, when the comet may be at a peak of magnitude 5.0. By now it's high up by late evening.

On the night of February 25th the comet goes through opposition, nearly 180° from the Sun in our sky. Will there be an "opposition effect" brightening of its dusty coma and dust tail?

And it's now speeding along at just over 5° per day! That's about 1 arcsecond every 5 seconds of time, enough to show obvious motion during a short telescopic observing session. Similarly, that's 1 arcminute per 5 minutes of time if you're using binoculars.

After that Lulin moves away from both Earth and the Sun, so it fades quickly. The evening of February 27 will see it at about 6th magnitude within 1° of Regulus. Moonlight starts interfering again around the 28th.

Weird Orbital Geometry

Strangely, as you may have noticed on the charts, this comet is traveling almost exactly along the ecliptic — backward! Could this really be just be a coincidence? The comet's nearly parabolic orbit indicates that it has never much interacted with the planets at all. Yet its orbital inclination is 178.4°, meaning that it's orbiting in the opposite direction from the planets just 1.6° from the ecliptic plane. (Manipulable 3-D orbit diagram).

Tails and Antitails

Because the comet stays nearly on the ecliptic, its tail (which points away from the Sun) aligns with the ecliptic and with the comet's own direction of motion across the sky. This is indicated by the direction the tail is pointed on the comet symbols on the finder charts linked to above.

Moreover, because Earth remains in the comet's own orbital plane, we see the comet with a very thin tail and an antitail, a spike pointing in almost the opposite direction from the main tail. Why? In three dimensions a comet's dust tail is often wide but it's always thin, confined to the comet's orbital plane. When we are in or near this plane, we can sometimes see parts of the wide, thin dust tail on opposite sides of the comet's head. We pass through most comets' orbital planes briefly. But this time, the situation will last and last.

And indeed, as early as January 7th Lulin did have an antitail, as shown in this image taken by Karzaman Ahmad in Malaysia with a 20-inch scope (image courtesy Here's another image, from Ernesto Guido, Giovanni Sostero and Paul Camilleri, taken January 8th. Here's an animation by Guido and Sostero showing the comet's motion between two images taken Jan. 16th and 17th, antitail and all. Here's a photo gallery of more.

A comet's blue-green gas tail, on the other hand, always points nearly in a straight line away from the Sun in space. Cometary gas is blown directly away from the Sun at high speed by the solar wind.

MARCH: Following Lulin Out

Comet Lulin crosses from Leo into Cancer at the beginning of March and, having passed opposition, is now better seen in the evening than the morning hours. But observers will have to contend with moonlight from about March 1st through 11th.

The night of March 5th sees the 6th-magnitude comet within 2° of both Delta (δ) Cancri and the Beehive Cluster, M44. But the Moon is also nearby.

Another conjunction occurs on March 16th when the comet, now around 7th or 8th magnitude but in a dark sky (and best seen in early evening), is 1° from Delta Geminorum.

As Comet Lulin recedes, its passage across our sky will slow. Indeed, from the end of March to the end of May (when Lulin may have faded to 11th magnitude) it will stay within a narrow, 3° strip of sky bounded by Epsilon (ε), Mu (μ), and 36 Geminorum. By May's end it will be lost in the afterglow of sunset.

Comet Lulin won't return again to the inner solar system for more than a thousand years.

Cooperative Discovery

Comet C/2007 N3 (Lulin) was discovered by Quanzhi Ye, a student (age 19) at Sun Yat-sen University in mainland China, as an apparently asteroidal object on images taken by Chi Sheng Lin (National Central University, Taiwan) with a 16-inch telescope at Lulin Observatory in Taiwan on the night of July 11, 2007. A week later, confirming images revealed the telltale presence of a coma. In China and Taiwan, the comet has been hailed as the "Comet of Cooperation."

Lulin was one of 223 comet discoveries on images taken from the ground and in space in 2007, an all-time record.

For a gallery of images and a light curve, check the Comet Lulin page on Seiichi Yoshida's Weekly Information about Bright Comets.


Postscript: What Happened to Comet Boethin?

By Greg Bryant

Another comet was expected to be visible in binoculars around this time: Periodic Comet 85P/Boethin. Discovered in 1975 by the late Rev. Leo Boethin (1912–98) in the Philippines, this comet orbits the Sun every 11 years. Or at least it used to.

Comet Boethin was recovered in 1985 and was predicted to brighten to no more than 12th magnitude during the winter of 1985–86 (when comet watchers were enjoying the buzz of Halley). However, it managed to surprise, reaching 7th magnitude in January 1986!

Did this outburst disrupt it completely? Comet Boethin was on track to return in 1997, but the poor circumstances of that return meant it could not be sighted. Nevertheless, astronomers decided in 2005 to redirect the Deep Impact spacecraft (now renamed the EPOXI mission) to study this comet, as its orbital path was ideal for the spacecraft.

In 2007 observers around the world and in space started searching for Comet Boethin, but to no avail. Not even a fragment has been found. Perhaps some tiny faint bit will be picked up by patrol telescopes in early 2009. But as of December 1, 2008, there was still no trace of it to 20th magnitude.

Fortunately, the EPOXI mission has now been redirected to the short-period comet 103P/Hartley 2. This one has been seen at four apparitions, so its orbit is secure.

This is not the first time that a periodic comet has been seen on two returns only to be lost. One example in the last century was 34D/Gale, discovered in 1927 from the inner suburbs of Sydney, Australia. It was recovered in 1938 but never seen again. Like Boethin, it too, coincidentally, had a period of 11 years.


Find this article at:

Copyright (c) 2008 New Track Media. All rights reserved.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Satellite Collision...

COLLIDING SATELLITES: (Feb. 14, 2009) For the first time ever, two
large satellites have collided in Earth orbit. It happened on Tuesday,
Feb. 10th at 1655 UT, when Kosmos 2251 crashed into Iridium 33
approximately 800 km over northern Siberia. The relative speed of
impact was about 10 km/s or 22,000 mph. Both satellites were

U.S. Strategic Command is tracking hundreds of satellite fragments.
Within days of the collision, the debris swarm spread around both
orbits. Experts characterize the distribution as a pair of "clumpy
rings"; one ring traces the orbit of Iridium 33, the other traces the
orbit of Kosmos 2251.

This injection of debris substantially increases the population of
space junk at altitudes near 800 km. Collisions are now more likely
than ever. Fortunately, the International Space Station orbits Earth
at a much lower altitude, 350 km, so it is in no immediate danger. The
Hubble Space Telescope is not so safe at 610 km. Researchers are
studying the make-up and dynamics of the debris to estimate when
fragments will begin to drift down to lower altitudes.

FIREBALLS VS. SATELLITE DEBRIS: A series of bright fireballs observed
in Texas, Kentucky and Italy over the weekend of Feb. 13th were
attributed by some news sources to debris from the satellite
collision. Not true. The fireballs were apparently natural meteoroids:
full story.

LISTEN UP: The US Air Force Space Surveillance Radar is monitoring the
skies above Texas for echoes from satellite fragments. Try listening
on Thursday, Feb. 19th between 22:40 and 22:50 pm CST (0440 - 0450 UT
on Feb. 20th). That's when the main fragment of Iridium 33 is due to
pass over the radar. UPDATE: A Valentine's Day overpass of possible
Iridium 33 fragments produced this echo.

(c)2009 All rights reserved.

Comet Lulin Update

Space Weather News for Feb. 18, 2009

COMET LULIN UPDATE: Comet Lulin is approaching Earth and brightening rapidly. Observers say it is now visible to the naked eye as a faint (magnitude +5.6) gassy patch in the constellation Virgo before dawn. Even city dwellers have seen it. Backyard telescopes reveal a vivid green comet in obvious motion. Just yesterday, amateur astronomers watched as a solar wind gust tore away part of the comet's tail, the second time this month such a thing has happened. Lulin's closest approach to Earth (38 million miles) is on Feb. 24th; at that time the comet could be two or three times brighter than it is now. Browse the gallery for the latest images:

SATELLITE DEBRIS: More than a week has passed since the Feb. 10th collision of Iridium 33 and Kosmos 2251 over northern Siberia, and the orbits of some of the largest fragments have now been measured by US Strategic Command. Today's edition of features global maps showing where the debris is located. Only 26 fragments are currently plotted, but that number will grow as radar tracking of the debris continues. Check back often for updates.

Comet Lulin:

Cloudy Skies since the beginning of Feburary-couldn't have my cake and eat it-LOL...

Weekend Fireballs

A very interesting read...

Space Weather News for Feb. 16, 2009

WEEKEND FIREBALLS: A daylight fireball over Texas on Sunday, Feb. 15th, triggered widespread reports that debris from a recent satellite collision was falling to Earth. Those reports were premature. Researchers have studied video of the event and concluded that the object was more likely a natural meteoroid about one meter wide traveling more than 20 km/s--much faster than orbital debris. Meteoroids hit Earth every day, and the Texas fireball was apparently one of them.

There's more: On Friday, Feb. 13th, people in central Kentucky heard loud booms, felt their houses shake, and saw a fireball streaking through the sky. This occurred scant hours after another fireball at least 10 times brighter than a full Moon lit up the sky over Italy. Although it is tempting to attribute these events to debris from the Feb. 10th collision of the Iridium 33 and Kosmos 2251 satellites, the Kentucky and Italy fireballs also seem to be meteoroids, not man made objects. Italian scientists are studying the ground track of their fireball, which was recorded by multiple cameras, and they will soon begin to hunt for meteorites.

Videos, eye-witness reports and more information about these events may be found at

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Alert: Satellites Collide in Space

Space Weather News for Feb. 12, 2009

COLLIDING SATELLITES: Experts are calling it an "unprecedented event."
Two large satellites have collided in Earth orbit. Kosmos 2251 crashed
into Iridium 33 on Tuesday, Feb. 10th, approximately 800 km over
northern Siberia; both were destroyed. The resulting clouds of debris
contain more than 500 fragments, significantly increasing the orbital
debris population at altitudes where the collision occurred. The Air
Force Space Surveillance Radar is monitoring the clouds as they pass
over the radar facility in Texas. We, in turn, are monitoring signals
from the radar and you may be able to hear debris "pings" by tuning in
to our live audio feed. This is a story that will unfold in the days
ahead as researchers study the evolution of the debris clouds and
piece together the details of the collision. Stay tuned to for full coverage.



NEWSALERT: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 @ 2119 GMT
The latest news from Spaceflight Now

In an unprecedented space collision, a commercial Iridium communications
satellite and a presumably defunct Russian Cosmos satellite ran into each
other Tuesday above northern Siberia, creating a cloud of wreckage,
officials said today.

Two Russian satellites launched together / Fireworks from a flaring star

     NEWSALERT: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 @ 1441 GMT
         The latest news from Spaceflight Now

ON SALE NOW - STS-119 the next shuttle mission patch

A Proton rocket blasted off from a snow-covered launch pad early Wednesday
and successfully put a pair of Russian civil communications satellites
22,300 miles above Earth.

Astronomers using NASA's Swift satellite and Fermi Gamma-ray Space
Telescope are seeing frequent blasts from a stellar remnant 30,000
light-years away. The high-energy fireworks arise from a rare type of
neutron star known as a soft-gamma-ray repeater. Such objects
unpredictably send out a series of X-ray and gamma-ray flares.

The European Space Agency's Science Programme Committee has extended the
operations of the Mars Express orbiter, Venus Express orbiter and Earth
magnetosphere mission called Cluster.

Resupply ship launches toward rendezvous with station

     NEWSALERT: Tuesday, February 10, 2009 @ 0909 GMT
         The latest news from Spaceflight Now

ON SALE NOW - The next shuttle mission embroidered patch

A three-day orbital chase by a robotic cargo freighter to catch the
international space station began high above Earth early this morning with
the successful launch of the Russian-made resupply ship.

NASA has selected Orbital Sciences to launch the Nuclear Spectroscopic
Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, high energy X-ray telescope. The spacecraft
will fly in 2011 aboard a Pegasus XL rocket from the Pacific Ocean's
Kwajalein Atoll.

Lockheed Martin announced Monday that the second Advanced Extremely High
Frequency military communications satellite is now undergoing thermal
vacuum testing at the company's Sunnyvale, Calif. facilities.

Scientists and engineers who have been working on the James Webb Space
Telescope mission for years are getting very excited, because some of the
actual pieces that will fly aboard the Webb telescope are now being built.
One of the pieces, called the Backplane, is like a "spine" to the

Scientists at the Tucson-based Planetary Science Institute have found
further evidence for the large role that water has likely played in
shaping the Martian landscape.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Dusky Lunar Eclipse

Space Weather News for Feb. 8, 2009

DUSKY LUNAR ECLIPSE: On Monday, Feb. 9th, the full Moon will pass through the outskirts of Earth's shadow, producing a penumbral lunar eclipse. The event will be visible to the naked eye as a dusky shading of the northern half of the Moon. Maximum eclipse occurs between the hours of 1400 and 1520 UT (6:00 am - 7:20 am PST). The timing favors observers in east Asia, Australia, Hawaii and western parts of North America. Visit for a visibility map, animations, and more information.

COMET LULIN UPDATE: The plasma tail of Comet Lulin, torn off by a solar wind gust on Feb. 4th, has already grown back. Also, observers in dark-sky locations report that the comet is now visible to the naked eye as a pale "fuzzy patch" in the constellation Libra before dawn. The comet is brightening as it approaches Earth for a 38-million-mile close encounter on Feb. 24th. See the latest images in the Comet Lulin Photo Gallery:

Some more Pictures and finder charts of Comet Lulin...

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Upcoming Occultations

Forthcoming occultations by the Moon

Limiting Magnitude +6.0

January - March 2009

Details of occultations of fainter stars for your location are available from the director on request. You can either send an e-mail or use the regular post. If you choose the latter means of communication then an SAE is required please.

Date Z.C.
Data for Greenwich
Time UT Alt Az PA
Data for Edinburgh
Time UT Alt Az PA
7 Jan zc 537
ELECTRA (17 Tauri)
3.7 DD 16h 20m 35° 94° 88° 16h 25m 33° 96° 78° Waxing Gibbous
7 Jan zc 536
CELAENO (16 Tauri)
5.4 DD 16h 25m 36° 95° 52° 16h 34m 35° 97° 40° Waxing Gibbous
7 Jan zc 541
MAIA (20 Tauri)
3.9 DD 16h 51m 40° 100° 52° 17h 00m 38° 103° 40° Waxing Gibbous
7 Jan zc 539
TAYGETA (19 Tauri)
4.3 DD 16h 52m 40° 100° 15° No Occ'n       Waxing Gibbous
7 Jan zc 552
ALCYONE ( Eta Tauri)
2.8 GD 17h 53m 48° 118° 162° 17h 38m 43° 112° 124° Waxing Gibbous
7 Jan zc 552
ALCYONE ( Eta Tauri)
RB Graze       18h 18m 48° 123° 202° Waxing Gibbous
9 Jan zc 900
139 Tauri
4.8 DD 16h 22m 17° 70° 126° 16h 26m 18° 69° 114° Waxing Gibbous
10 Jan zc 1092
48 Geminorum
5.8 DD 19h 02m 30° 88° 58° 19h 16m 30° 90° 35° Day before FULL
12 Jan zc 1375
Pi Cancri
5.4 RD 19h 38m 11° 79° 341° 19h 27m 76° 19° Day after FULL
14 Jan zc 1611
65 Leonis
5.6 RD 22h 36m 12° 102° 351° No Occ'n       Waning Gibbous
4 Feb zc 537
ELECTRA (17 Tauri)
3.7 DD 02h 18m 302° 101° 02h 12m 11° 298° 96° Waxing Gibbous
4 Feb zc 536
CELAENO (16 Tauri
5.4 DD 02h 18m 302° 62° 02h 15m 10° 299° 57° Waxing Gibbous
4 Feb zc 541
MAIA (20 Tauri)
3.9 DD 02h 44m 307° 48° 02h 42m 304° 42° Waxing Gibbous
6 Feb zc 900
139 Tauri
4.8 DD 04h 07m 10° 300° 100° 04h 02m 14° 296° 98° Waxing Gibbous
6 Feb zc 1030
MEBSUTA (Epsilon Geminorum)
3.1 DD 19h 29m 54° 125° 118° 19h 27m 50° 125° 102° Waxing Gibbous
7 Feb zc 1070
Omega Geminorum
5.2 DD 03h 53m 19° 286° 72° 03h 47m 22° 280° 69° Waxing Gibbous
13 Feb zc 1800
21 Virginis
5.5 RD 05h 20m 22° 218° 353° 05h 11m 20° 211° 354° Waning Gibbous
17 Feb zc 2276
4 Scorpii
5.6 RD 05h 31m 12° 172° 262° 05h 28m 16° 263° Day after LAST QTR.
17 Feb zc 2287
Pi Scorpii
2.9 DB 06h 35m 12° 186° 34° 06h 32m 182° 30° Day after LAST QTR.
17 Feb zc 2287
Pi Scorpii
2.9 RD 07h 07m 11° 193° 349° 06h 59m 188° 354° Day after LAST QTR.
3 Mar zc 647
Chi Tauri
5.4 DD 22h 54m 26° 279° 71° 22h 48m 29° 273° 63° Day before FIRST QTR.
10 Mar zc 1611
65 Leonis
5.6 DD 18h 51m 11° 100° 73° 19h 06m 10° 102° 45° Day before FULL
10 Mar zc 1611
65 Leonis
5.6 RD 19h 33m 17° 109° 345° 19h 22m 12° 105° 12° Day before FULL
13 Mar zc 1852
370B Virginis
6 RD 00h 37m 26° 165° 323° 00h 32m 21° 161° 327° Waning Gibbous

*** Click on the star name to show a graphic for the occultation event ***



Mag Visual Magnitude.
ZC Zodiacal Catalogue number, originally much favoured by lunar occultation observers.
Ph (R)appearance, (D)isappearance or (G)raze at (D)ark or (B)right limb of the Moon.
Alt. Altitude. The angular height of the Moon above the horizon at the time of the occultation.
Az. The angular position along the horizon measured from true north in a clockwise direction (through E. S. W back to N.)
PA Position Angle, of the event, measured in an anti-clockwise direction from the direction of the Celestial North Pole.

OCCULTATION NOTES January to March 2009

The waxing gibbous moon and the Pleiades come together early this evening for the first occultation of stars belonging to this glorious Open Cluster of bright stars in 2009. The event gives a good opportunity for astrophotographers to do some imaging, and excellent opportunities for SPA members to try timing the brighter events. There is also an interesting graze involving the m(v) 4.3 star Taygeta. The graze line stretches across mainland Britain from Egremont in Cumbria, via Carlisle to the North Sea coast at Bamburgh. Taygeta is occulted for observers south of this line. Brightest star in the group Alcyone m(v) 2.8 undergoes a grazing occultation too. The graze line for this starts near Bournemouth and heads towards the north east, passing through Southampton, west London, Epping, and reaching the North Sea coast just north of Dunwich. Alcyone is occulted for observers to the north of this line.

The graze line passes almost exactly west to east across the country with observers to the south of the line witnessing a complete occultation of the m(v) 5.6 star. The graze line clips the most northerly point of Ireland and touches the Scottish coastline at Girvan, to the south of Ayr. After crossing part of southern Scotland it leaves the country at Lynemouth in Northumberland. Just to the north of Newcastle.

This morning, you have another chance to image the spectacular juxtaposition of the lovely bright components of M45, lying near to the gibbous waxing moon, low in the west-north-western sky.

If you require specific data for your locality, or details of occultations involving fainter stars, please get in touch with the Director of the Occultation Section giving your geographical location. Graphical representations of each occultation will be available at the Occultation Section's web-site before the event is due to take place. This is the UK's definitive site for lunar and asteroidal occultations.

Maintained by Jon Harper. Last modified 16th December 2009.

Occultation of the Pleiades 4 Febuary.....

Reply about the Occultation from the S.P.A Occultation section...

You are a braver man than me Colin!

Thanks so much for your excellent observational timings. Good luck with Lulin---I haven't seen it yet!

Ah---- the secret of observation on a cold and frosty morning is  pot noodles --- Ill tell the rest of the Section! Hahahahah!

With very best wishes,

1217 days until the next occasion when Venus tries to occult the Sun (June 6th 2012)!
The event will be visible for 40 minutes after sunrise from Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

UK Asteroidal Occultations - Definitive Site:
UK Lunar Occultations of Bright Stars:

Occultation of the Pleiades 4 Febuary.....

Freezing cold morning-temperature down as far as minus 1.4 degrees Centigrade according to my digital remote outside thermo transmitter-a white frost on the garden grass, cars and shed rooftops glistening, looked from 01.00 Hours U.T onwards until the Occultation around 02.18 Hours (Greenwich) U.T-the Moon with its Terminator going right through the Crater Copernicus and casting shadows into it disappeared behind some building chimney pots so I had to go outside to do the observations although it did not feel too cold to me as I was well wrapped up in good thermal clothes etc-the results were these...
Electra (17 Tauri) DD 02.15.40 Hours U.T
Celano (16 Tauri) DD 02.16.10 Hours U.T
Maia (20 Tauri) DD 02.43.10 Hours U.T
Times are +/- 1 to 2 seconds out-but not much due to human reaction.
Casio Wave Ceptor wrist watch set by radio signal 20 minutes before the occultation-so should be very accurate timings.
One steaming hot pot noodle-afterwards.
After that I had a look around in the South Eastern Sky for Comet Lulin-now close to Alpha in Libra (Zubenelgenubi) and will follow the Ecliptic plane into the Spring Skies through Virgo and Leo, still have not picked this one out yet with Binoculars as the morning skies are a little misty and very cold in the East but it should become more prominent during 20th of the Month onwards-hopefully...